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Teenager Wins Top Prize for Pancreatic Cancer Test

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Last year more than a quarter of a million people worldwide died from the disease, and that number is rising. But recently, a 16-year-old Maryland student created a simple test that can detect pancreatic cancer at its earliest stage of development -- a breakthrough that promises more effective diagnosis and treatment. The gifted young scientist, who was an invited guest of First Lady Michelle Obama at the President's State of the Union address Tuesday, is getting his career off to a roaring start.

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Jack Andraka won the grand prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the largest high school science competition in the world, held last year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The 16-year-old Maryland resident is the youngest-ever recipient of the $75,000 award, beating out more than 1,500 students from 70 countries.

Jack's win follows a lifelong interest in science. It's a passion encouraged by his parents, inspired by his brother -- himself a prize winner at the 2010 Intel Fair -- and nurtured at his high school in Glen Burnie, near Washington.

He won the competition for his development of a simple and inexpensive test that provides early detection of pancreatic cancer, something he became interested in after losing a close family friend to the disease.

I went on the Internet and I found that 85 percent of all pancreatic cancers are diagnosed late, when someone has less than a 2 percent chance of survival, and I was thinking, Thats not right. We should be able to do something, Andraka said.

Jack Andraka did do something. He went back online and learned that people with pancreatic cancer have elevated levels of a protein called mesothelin in their bloodstream, and that early detection is key to increasing the chances of surviving the disease.

Borrowing a lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, he went on to develop a simple paper sensor that can detect the mesothelin in a single drop of blood or urine, signaling the presence of pancreatic cancer much earlier than was possible with previous tests.

Jack's test is 90 percent accurate.

The sensor is 400 times more sensitive, 168 times faster and 26,000 times less expensive. It costs three cents per test and takes only five minutes to run, he said.

Jack's mentor at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Anirban Maitra, was the only one out of 200 researchers to respond favorably to e-mails the student sent out describing his project.

I have to admit, initially I was very surprised that this was a 15-year-old who was writing this. I wanted to meet this obviously gifted young man and see what he wanted to talk about and so I called him over for an interview. Hes very impressive, Maitra said.

In 2011, Dr. Maitra gave Jack a corner of his lab, where he worked for seven months completing his award-winning project.

He has since patented his pancreatic cancer sensor and is working on developing it into a simple, over-the-counter test.

Jack speaks at technology conferences around the world, such as the prestigious TED talks.

"Imagine if (I) -- a 15 year-old who knew nothing about biology -- could find a new way to detect pancreatic cancer using only Google and Wikipedia -- imagine what you could do! Thank you!," he said. at the conference.

He was invited by former president Bill Clinton to take part in last year's meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative. And he was a guest of the first lady at President Obama's State of the Union Address.

Jacks mentor, Dr. Maitra, is not surprised by the fame this young man has already achieved:

Jack Andraka is a name that youll hear about in the next 10 to 20 years. If hes done what hes done at 15, who knows what hell do when hes 25 or 35," Maitra said.

Or how many lives might be saved from pancreatic cancer because of Jack Andraka's simple test.